Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Master of Verona by David Blixt


A Fantastic Novel of pre-Renaissance Verona!





Summary:

A sweeping novel of Renaissance Italy, THE MASTER OF VERONA follows Pietro Alaghieri, eldest son of the poet Dante, as he's caught up by the charisma and genius of Verona's ruler, Cangrande della Scala. Pietro risks battles, duels, and murder to impress his new lord. At the heart of the story is an infernal plot against Cangrande's bastard heir, and the rivalry of two friends over the affections of a girl. That rivalry will sever a friendship, divide a city, and initiate a feud that will someday produce the star-crossed lovers. Based on the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of Dante, and the history of Italy, THE MASTER OF VERONA is a novel of brutal warfare, lost friendship, and dire conspiracy, combining to create a heart-stoppingly epic journey into the birth of the Renaissance that recalls the best of Bernard Cornwell and Dorothy Dunnett. 

Review:

In 14th century Italy, poet Dante Alighieri is banished from his beloved home town of Florence. With his two sons, Pietro and Jacopo, he is invited to travel to Verona and become part of Francesco ‘Cangrande’ della Scala, the Lord of Verona’s household. There, much intrigue unfolds as the war for Vicenza erupts with Padua and as repeated attempts are made against Cangrande’s illegitimate heir. Pietro is irretrievably drawn into the issues and battles facing Cangrande. To make matters worse, Pietro’s two friends, Mariotto and Antonio, are in contest with each other over a woman, which leads the readers into the tragic story of Romeo and Juliette, giving it roots and bringing it to life in greater detail. This novel takes place in the Veneto region of Italy – Vicenza, Padua, Venice, and Verona, and books about this region are indeed rare. So it was with great interest that I picked up this book. Especially since my own Italian roots are firmly planted in the Veneto region. 

With a blend of true historical characters such as Dante, Cangrande della Scala, the story of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, and real historical events with the wars between the neighboring cities, this is a breathtaking epic. As Pietro and his friends are drawn into Cangrande’s troubles, they face the horrors of battle and participate in the Palio, a brutal, life-threatening horse race through the streets of Verona still conducted today in Siena. The author writes with such wonderful detail, these scenes are gripping and so real, that I found myself totally immersed in the story. In addition for my great interest in the era and setting of this story, what I enjoyed most was the abounding suspense and strong historical details. It is evident that the author did a great amount of research and gained a strong understanding of the era and its most famous persons. The entire story, from start to finish was completely entertaining and engrossing. 

There is a huge cast of characters, and the author sometimes refers to them by nickname, first name, or last name which can be confusing and makes this book a bit of a challenging read. I recommend bookmarking the character list at the start and referring to the list often until the names and their derivatives become familiar. But don’t let that daunt you. This book is masterfully written, so rich with detail, and full of wonderful suspense, battle scenes, and romance that there is something for everyone. A true epic and a story well worth sinking your teeth into.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey


An intimate peek into the life of the infamous Marie Antoinette, Dauphine and Queen of France! 

Book Description:

Paris, 1774. At the tender age of eighteen, Marie Antoinette ascends to the French throne alongside her husband, Louis XVI. But behind the extravagance of the young queen’s elaborate silk gowns and dizzyingly high coiffures, she harbors deeper fears for her future and that of the Bourbon dynasty.

From the early growing pains of marriage to the joy of conceiving a child, from her passion for Swedish military attaché Axel von Fersen to the devastating Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Marie Antoinette tries to rise above the gossip and rivalries that encircle her. But as revolution blossoms in America, a much larger threat looms beyond the gilded gates of Versailles—one that could sweep away the French monarchy forever.

Review:

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey is the second novel of a trilogy based on the life of Marie Antoinette. The first book in the series was entitled Becoming Marie Antoinette. This second book focuses on the early years of Marie Antoinette’s reign as Queen of France and spans fifteen years of her life. It explores the development and evolvement of the French people’s animosity towards their monarch in the years leading up to the French Revolution.

When it comes to Marie Antoinette, I continue to be fascinated by her story. There have been numerous novels written about the life of this fascinating woman. What makes this book different than the others is that it portrays Marie Antoinette in neither a good light nor bad. Juliet Grey has done a marvellous job of showing us her faults and errors, as well as her naïveté and inexperience in a non-judgmental way. And because her life story is presented in a trilogy format, readers are able to understand this heroine in a deeper, more meaningful way. An example of this is how the author dealt with Marie’s affair with Axel Ferson – she portrayed the passion, guilt, and shame intricately and in a way that truly makes the young, unhappy queen seem real and vulnerable. Her foolishness in relentlessly gambling away money was portrayed very well – the losses were truly astounding – and her lack of remorse or worry truly shows us many of her less desirable qualities. Her frivolous spending was depicted as well as some of the queen’s more generous acts of charity or kindness. The novel is told in first person narrative in Marie’s voice. This engaging voice, coupled with vibrant descriptions of clothing, palaces, masques, and dinners, really thrusts the reader into the story.

Although I did not have the opportunity to read the first book in the series, I was able to follow the story easily without having to struggle to remember characters and situations. Power and great wealth can truly corrupt, especially in the hands of a very young woman thrust into the role of queen. For those wishing an indepth interpretation of Marie Antoinette’s life, this trilogy is perfect. Exceptionally well done!




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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Book Giveaway - The Reckoning by Alma Katsu

Win a copy of The Reckoning by Alma Katsu!

Alma Katsu has asked me to forward this on to my readers!  Enter to win a copy of her new release - The Reckoning.

"After receiving this box of finished copies of The Reckoning, I thought I'd have a quick contest in honor of the holiday weekend. I'm giving away one copy and will ship internationally. Folks can enter by emailing me at contest@almakatsu.com and I must receive entries by midnight PT, May 28.

The winner will receive the book BEFORE IT GOES ON SALE June 19th. Quick and easy peasy!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Train of Small Mercies, by David Rowell



In June 1968, America society was surviving only by sheer will. Torn apart first by the Vietnam War and then by Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the country is once again rocked when Bobby Kennedy is shot hours after his victory in the California primary.

The public comes out in droves as Kennedy’s train travels the length of the East Coast to its final resting point in Arlington Cemetery. As the train meanders, so, too, do the lives of those living along the train’s pathway. In one home, a husband and wife struggle with boredom and the recognition of the spouse’s failings; in another, a Vietnam veteran must confront the loss of his leg and the horrors he saw in battle; in another city, a mother goes to extreme lengths to avoid her husband’s criticism and watch the train’s trip when a terrifying event derails her plans.

The Train of Small Mercies follows not only Kennedy’s casket, but also the events that coincided with the train’s passing that also forever changed lives. With exquisitely written dialogue, Rowell displays American life in all its tumult as it existed on June 8, 1968 – a day of both mourning and growth - for the country. The author’s first novel reflects East Coast life and cultural problems as they existed then, but also manages to connect them to present-day Washington DC. Lovers of American history and those fascinated by the Kennedy family should not miss this gem.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Jessamine by Eugenia O'Neal

Grace arrives to join her West Indian husband, Julian Hylton in his Caribbean island home on the island of St Crescens, where she is introduced to Jessamine, a beautiful, historical plantation house, owned in the previous century by the Island Administrator.

Loving her new home, Grace is surprised at the hostile welcome she receives from Julian’s grandmother and some of the locals. Both appear to disapprove of both Julian’s efforts for election to the government of the island, and the fact he married an American woman and not an islander, but Grace is made of strong stuff and tries to fit in as best she can. 

Julian’s campaign takes up most of his time, and left alone at Jessamine, Grace is plagued by strange headaches.  When the physical symptoms change to a voice of a woman asking for help, Grace refuses to ignore her and starts digging amongst church records and the town's archives to discover who this lost soul might be and what she wants.

Running parallel to Grace’s story is that of Arabella, a young orphaned white girl, who came to St Crescens in the 1880’s as governess employed by William Threlfall and his wife Olivia at Jessamine, where she looks after their three children, Victoria, Theodore and Jocelyn.

Arabella Adams has experienced little love in her life and the Threlfalls offer her none, leaving her isolated and susceptible to the attentions of a local man, Leando Joseph. Leando is an exceptional man for a West Indian in the 19th century, having made a good life for himself and is a respected landowner, but he also cares deeply for his fellow islanders and is determined to help create better lives for the native population who suffer at the hands of the plantation owners.

In their respective times, both Arabella and Grace are embroiled in the similar political wrangles of their men to alter the status quo, defeat corruption and bring a better life to the islanders; a fight neither Julian nor Leando intend to shrink from, and an element they have in common is the deep love they have for their women.

As Grace’s investigations into Arabela’s life take a dangerous turn, the riots of a former time threaten to re-visit the island. Will Grace discover the truth in time to help keep Julian safe from the same family who caused tragedy to Arabella and Leando so long ago? 

Miss O’Neal’s novel is a story of tragic love, greed and political rivalry fought on one island in two different centuries. The two women have very different voices and the author portrays the starkness of the 19th century as opposed to the more enlightened, but equally segregated 21st very well.  I found Arabella’s voice to be the strongest and her story the more touching and tragic, but maybe this is because it is clear from the beginning that she needs Grace’s help to gain closure to her life.

I did find the island dialect a little hard to get used to, but then I am a London girl so it was almost a different language, however the parallels of the two women’s lives are cleverly drawn and by the end I had come to admire Grace’s tenacity to unearth the truth and not be intimidated by her husband’s enemies, as much as I did Arabella’s courage to defy convention and cross the race divide.


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Blurb for Dido's Prize  - Dido, a slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation, runs away to join Henry Morgan's privateer fleet and find the treasure that will allow her to buy her family's freedom. What she doesn't bargain on is falling in love with El Negro, a pirate captain with no particular yen for a long-lasting relationship. As Morgan sails the Spanish Main, sacking first, El Puerto del Principe in Cuba, and then the great city of Porto Bello in Panama, Dido becomes a valued member of El Negro's crew. After the ships return to Jamaica, Dido thinks she will never see the pirate captain again, but he comes to her rescue when she is in peril. They flee deep into the Blue Mountains, but El Negro knows he will never be safe on the island. Together, Dido and her pirate, head back out to sea to find a place where they can live and love in freedom.



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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Bones of Avignon by Jefferson Bass

Medieval mystery meets modern-day murder, as Dr. Brockton and Miranda Lovelady  investigate the discovery of ancient bones found in the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, France.

Instead of a simple phone call asking for his assistance, Miranda inveigles her associate to tell Bill Brockton, the ‘bone specialist’ and Miranda’s lecturer and mentor, that she’s in hospital with acute appendicitis. This alerts us to the fact Brockton has suppressed feelings for Miranda and despite being twenty years her senior, he experiences teen-like fantasies and jealousy about her which constantly interferes with his scientific concentration. At the opening chapter, Brockton is working on a dead undercover DEA agent, and when things start getting sinister in France, he believes he has been followed by the drug dealers trying to remove him from the picture.

The first thing Bill reveals is that these bones are of a man in his sixties, not the 33 year old Christ everyone is expecting, though when they subject the skull to computer enhancement, the face revealed bears a close resemblance to that on the Shroud of Turin – another fake, or irrefutable proof?

If you harbour pre-conceived ideas about religious fanatics, dipsomaniac Irish priests and French policeman, this book will confirm everything you ever thought.  I loved Inspector DeCartes, who when asked if he is a relative of the man who said, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ quips back, ‘I think I am a relative, therefore I am.’  He also describes the ‘Lunatic Fringe’ as, ‘the fluffy edge of crazy’ - Love it!

The storyline concentrates largely on the processes of authenticating the bones, or not authenticating them, and the convoluted historical background of the alleged origins of the Shroud of Turin and a story of unrequited love between a cleric and a lady called Laura with some poetry by Yeats added to the mix.

The historical background of fourteenth century Avignon was fascinating, but it ran alongside a modern day murder/kidnap/ransom situation and I’m afraid the history slowed down the modern story to a crawl so I was tempted to skip it to get to the action.

Jefferson Bass is the writing team of Dr Bill Bass, founder of the University of Tennessee's Body Farm - the world's first laboratory dedicated to the study of human decomposition - and Jon Jefferson, which explains the detailed and fascinating science bit!

I did enjoy this book, but I would have liked to have appreciated Fourteenth Century Avignon for its own sake rather as architecture propping up a modern day narrative.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Pirate's Daughter and a King's Ransom by K.L. Parry


K.L. Parry’s novel The Pirate’s Daughter and a King’s Ransom is a rousing, high seas adventure about 14-year-old Blue, her father, his nemesis, and Lady Rebbecca Wolf. After Blue and her mother are summoned to Lord Wolf’s manor to work as temporary lacemakers, Blue finds herself forging an unlikely friendship with Lord Wolf’s ill-tempered, tyrannical daughter Rebbecca. When Blue’s departure for home threatens to separate them, Rebbecca concocts a cruel scheme to keep them together forever. That’s where the adventure truly begins.

After Blue escapes Lord Wolf’s manor, unwillingly taking Rebbecca along, she sets out to find her father Perseus, who, unknown to Blue, is actually the famous pirate Dead Eye Pete. Capture by the mysterious, vindictive pirate William Thorn throws the two girls into a deadly game of cat and mouse. However, it is Thorn’s true identity and plans that are at the crux of Blue’s story. Just who is William Thorn? Why is he hell-bent on having revenge on Blue’s father? Will Blue and Rebbecca ever return home… or even survive?

Self-published in 2010, The Pirate’s Daughter and a King’s Ransom is filled with intriguing, admirably flawed characters whose lives connect in many thrilling ways. The settings are rich and believable, and the historical details are nicely weaved throughout the story. Despite grammatical errors, the book is a fast-paced, enjoyable read geared toward young adults.

Parry does a good job of keeping the reader guessing at what is coming next. More than once I found myself expecting one thing, and then I was pulled in another exciting direction. I look forward to K.L. Parry’s next novel.

Reviewed by Miranda Miller

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland


The Thirteenth century has just begun and King John has fallen out with the Pope, leaving babies to lie unbaptised in their cradles and corpses in unconsecrated ground. Across a fear-ravaged England, people are dying in sin.

And into the Norfolk village of Gastmere comes a new Lord of the Manor – the cruel and bloodthirsty Osborn, not long returned from crusading. Spying treachery at every turn, he is prepared on the slightest pretext to damn anyone to hell and the scaffold. So when Elena, a servant girl, is falsely accused of murdering her child, she is convinced she will be next. But there are others who will defy Osborn’s brutal regime to save a girl who once took part in the secrets and strange rituals of the manor…

During the 13th century, because of a dispute between the Vatican and King John, churches, clerics, and religious worship and sacraments were banned. A young, virgin, servant girl named Elena is taken from her laborious servitude to live and work within Gastmere Manor. But she does not know that she has secretly been subjected to a secret ceremony that will cause her soul to absorb the sins of a dead man. Almost immediately, she is plagued by visions of horrendous murders and she believes she is the murderer. In desperation, she turns to the local wise woman, whose uses her for her own selfish devices regarding a terrible curse.

Master Raffaele is the manor’s steward, a castrato haunted by the sins of his own past. He becomes Elena’s sole means of support and friendship when the castle is taken over by traitorous, unscrupulous new overlords. Soon, she finds herself pregnant and accused of a crime she didn’t commit. To save her life, Raffaele hides her in a filthy brothel run by a dwarf madame with an agenda of her own. And this is just the start. The story unfolds with passion, tension, conflict, and mayhem, hooking the reader from start to finish.

I’m always thrilled when I stumble upon a great book written by a fabulous author previously unknown to me. Karen Maitland and her novel The Gallows Curse is definitely my newest, exciting discovery. In her latest medieval, gothic style novel, there is plenty happening, and it’s all gripping. For those who like their stories dark and on the sinister side, this will definitely satisfy. Superstition, murder, mystery, treachery, cruelty, and shocking secrets all reveal themselves with each turn of the page. For a tale that is fierce, audacious, and radiantly told, this is one novel where I wanted to savour every word to its shocking end. I loved every word!

The Reluctant Marquess by Maggi Anderson


Summary

Charity Barlow wished to marry for love. The rakish Lord Robert wishes only to tuck her away in the country once an heir is produced.

A country-bred girl, Charity Barlow suddenly finds herself married to a marquess, an aloof stranger determined to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself. She and Lord Robert have been forced by circumstances to marry, and she feels sure she is not the woman he would have selected given a choice.

The Marquess of St. Malin makes it plain to her that their marriage is merely for the procreation of an heir, and once that is achieved, he intends to continue living the life he enjoyed before he met her.

While he takes up his life in London once more, Charity is left to wander the echoing corridors of St Malin House, when she isn’t thrown into the midst of the mocking Haute Ton.

Charity is not at all sure she likes her new social equals, as they live by their own rules, which seem rather shocking. She’s not at all sure she likes her new husband either, except for his striking appearance and the dark desire in his eyes when he looks at her, which sends her pulses racing.

Lord Robert is a rake and does not deserve her love, but neither does she wish to live alone.

Might he be suffering from a sad past? Seeking to uncover it, Charity attempts to heal the wound to his heart, only to make things worse between them.

Will he ever love her?

Review

In 18th century England, when Charity Barlow’s parents are killed in a carriage accident, she finds herself alone and suddenly under the guardianship of the Marquess of St Malin, her godfather. But when she arrives at his castle overlooking the sea, Robert, her godfather’s nephew advises her that the Marquess has died and he has now inherited the title. But her surprises do not end there. In the will, she and Robert are to marry in order for them to inherit the vast fortune. And so they marry, albeit reluctantly, setting the story for much tension. The heroine is strong, verbally uninhibited, and able to fight for herself against a husband who pays her little regard. The hero is arrogant, charming, has been hurt in the past, neglectful, and not sensitive to his new wife’s needs.

This light romance, although a touch predictable, unfolds at a good pace and is easy to read. It’s a great book to escape into, with a fun story line and a great heroine. Although the hero is a bit frustrating at times, I think it actually helps make the story better by creating more tension. We are able to see all his faults, watch as he redeems himself, and then we slowly come to accept him just as Charity finally does. The story unfolds in a London castle and the author did a terrific job of describing the details and opulence. 


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Reckoning by Alma Katsu


A love triangle spanning 200 years…Alma Katsu takes readers on a breathtaking journey through the landscape of the heart.

New York Times bestselling author Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan) praises Alma Katsu’s The Taker as, “a centuries-spanning epic that will keep you turning pages all night. This marvelous debut is a thinking person’s guilty pleasure.” And Keith Donohue (The Stolen Child) says, “The Taker is a frighteningly compelling story about those most human monsters—desire and obsession. It will curl your hair and keep you up late at night.”

Now Alma Katsu delivers the highly anticipated follow-up to her haunting novel about an immortal woman learning firsthand that the heart wants what the heart wants…no matter how high the stakes. Fans of The Taker can finally indulge in their next juicy fix with the second book of the trilogy, The Reckoning. In this gripping, pulse-pounding supernatural sequel, discover what happens to Lanny, Luke, Adair—and Jonathan. The Reckoning picks up where The Taker leaves off, following Lanny on her path to redemption—and creating a whole new level of suspense.

The Reckoning is Alma Katsu’s long awaited sequel to The Taker. It is the second book of a trilogy, a dark, gothic tale about immortality and its horrible effects. The third book in the series is named The Descent.

The Reckoning picks up exactly where The Taker ended. The main character, Lanore, now two hundred years old and still on the run with her lover Dr Luke Findley, suddenly experiences the terror of knowing that Adair is free from the brick and mortar tomb in the walls of his home. She knows he will come after her, blind with wrath and eager to wreak the most horrendous vengeance.

Told through the first person narrative of the main character, Lanore, this tale sweeps the reader through numerous exotic locations - from the United States to England, from Italy to Spain, Lanore desperately tries to stay one step ahead of Adair.

The story’s secondary characters are as rich and vicious in personality as the main ones are and with engaging traits such as greed, pure evil, and traitorous. But the true hook in this story is the antagonist, Adair. Corrupt, evil, murderous, and as immortal as the heroine herself. Absolutely fascinating!

Underlying themes explored in this novel of immortality are change, love, obsession, vengeance, power, life and death, and Alma Katsu weaves it all together in a fascinating paranormal yarn that grips you from start to finish. The author does not shy away from sex or violence, so this book is definitely rated for adults only. The graphic scenes are skilfully balanced with intriguing and lighthearted details as the ancient Adair gets used to life and articles in the new century into which he must adapt to.

Although The Reckoning can stand alone, and you do not need to read The Taker, I highly recommend that you do. The drama is fascinating and thrilling. Definitely a unique, enduring story of the paranormal! 



Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hearts Restored by Prue Phillipson


What can a young man of fifteen do when he is told by his mother that the three cousins he is about to meet all want to marry him?

Daniel Wilson Horden has arrived in London with his parents from their home in Northumberland on the very day of King Charles II’s triumphant return to his capital. Receiving his own personal wave from the king, Daniel longs only to serve him, but first he must keep at bay the threat of marriage.

His two French cousins are adamant in their pursuit of him, but Daniel is intrigued by his English cousin, Eunice, whose Puritan father snatches her away from the reunion celebrations. Unaware that his gallant attempt to save her has endeared him to her, Daniel only just escapes the marriage trap which his younger French cousin lays for him and is sent off to study at Cambridge University.

Once she returns to her father’s home, Eunice is condemned to a life of austerity. Heart-sick, she is assured by her grandmother that Daniel will come for her when he graduates from university.

But, unaware of his cousin’s feelings for him, Daniel goes off to join the navy only to find that fighting in the king’s service is not as glorious as he had imagined.

While the navy suffers at sea, London passes through plague and fire.

Will Eunice survive the hardship? And will Daniel return to fulfil the promise in his eyes on that fateful day in London?

About the Author:

Prue was born and reared in Newcastle upon Tyne in northern England. Prue enjoyed writing historical novels from an early age. She trained as a teacher, taught full time for four years and was a freelance writer during this time.  She took a correspondence course in creative writing and honed her craft. She is married and has reared five children. Her current occupation is writing articles, short stories and novels.

Review:

Hearts Restored by historical fiction author Prue Phillipson is an enchanting tale set in 17th century England.

Daniel Horden is nearly 16 years old, and already, his family is looking for a suitable bride for him. Although his parents would prefer to have him marry for love, making a suitable match is more important, for Daniel will be inheriting a title. They take him to London where he is introduced to three female cousins close to his own age as possible prospects. Daniel does not wish to marry. Rather, he dreams of joining the Royal Navy in service to King Charles. But as per his father’s wishes, he enters university and tries to forestall any attempts to get him to marry.

One of the three cousins he meets is Eunice whose father is a strict Puritan. Conflict occurs at his disapproval of the extravagant lifestyle of Daniel and her other two cousins. And it is with Eunice that Daniel is most drawn to.

I enjoyed the contrast made between Daniel’s wealth and Eunice’s austerity. It definitely added interest to the tale as the characters faced adversity through war, the plague, and the Great Fire. At times, the characters were a little placid, but nevertheless, believable and endearing. The story is full of wonderful historical details. For those who enjoy family drama with a little less emphasis on romance, you will enjoy this fine novel. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Sultan's Wife by Jane Johnson


Page-turning mystery, grandly seductive romance and full historical immersion into Moroccan court history, this exquisitely depicted and intensely absorbing novel follows in the bestselling tradition of The Tenth Gift and The Salt Road.
 
1677, Morocco. Behind the magnificent walls and towering arches of the Palace of Meknes, captive chieftain's son and now a lowly scribe, Nus Nus is framed for murder. As he attempts to evade punishment for the bloody crime, Nus Nus finds himself trapped in a vicious plot, caught between the three most powerful figures in the court: the cruel and arbitrary sultan, Moulay Ismail, one of the most tyrannical rulers in history; his monstrous wife Zidana, famed for her use of poison and black magic; and the conniving Grand Vizier.

Meanwhile, a young Englishwoman named Alys Swann has been taken prisoner by Barbary corsairs and brought to the court. She faces a simple choice: renounce her faith and join the Sultan's harem; or die. As they battle for survival, Alys and Nus Nus find themselves thrust into an unlikely alliance--an alliance that will become a deep and moving relationship in which these two outsiders will find sustenance and courage in the most perilous of circumstances.

From the danger and majesty of Meknes to the stinking streets of London and the decadent court of Charles II, The Sultan's Wife brings to life some of the most remarkable characters of history through a captivating tale of intrigue, loyalty and desire.

I have always been fascinated with novels about exotic settings, especially those set in a harem. From the first page to last, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

The year is 1677 and the story takes place in London and Morocco. I adore books with unique characters and at the heart of this story are Nus-Nus, an African eunuch slave, and by Alys Swan, an English woman of noble birth who is kidnapped and brought to Morocco to become one of the Sultan's concubines. When Alys is chosen for the Sultan’s bed, she is defiant and reluctant, but it is Nus-nus who wins her trust and prepares her. From therein, he befriends her and helps her to survive amidst all the very real life and death jealousies, conspiracies, dangers, and intrigues in the harem.

The novel drew me into the story immediately. The writing is excellent and descriptive, concisely and beautifully creating images and smells. The author did not hesitate to show us the cruel and brutal realities of the time. I especially enjoyed the first person narrative through the eyes of Nus-nus, a character who readers will admire for his courage, ethics, and inner strength. First person narratives always read much stronger and this was definitely the case here. 

Nus-nus and Alys develop throughout the story, adapting, changing, facing adversity. The ending was surprising, but satisfying. For those who like to be shocked with the odd and unusual, enjoy reading about the exotic, the mystique, murders, and passionate life and death realities, you cannot miss with this novel! This is the first novel by Jane Johnson I’ve read, and I’m eager to read her other two previous novels. A talented author who knows how to spin a fabulous yarn!


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The Courtesan's Lover by Gabrielle Kimm


New Release! 


In a spin-off from her first novel, His Last Duchess, Kimm takes the character of Francesca, formerly the mistress of the complex duke of Ferrara, and places her centre-stage in her own novel.  Francesca is now an aspiring courtesan:  astonishingly beautiful and ambitious, she revels in the power she wields over men.

But when she is visited by an inexperienced young man, it becomes horribly clear to Francesca that, despite her many admiring patrons, she has never been truly loved.  Suddenly, her glittering and sumptuous life becomes little more than a gaudy façade.

And then another unexpected encounter brings with it devastating implications that plunge Francesca and her two young daughters into the sort of danger she has dreaded ever since she began to work the streets all those years ago

In 16th century Italy, Francesca Felizzi, former lover of the Duke of Ferrara, is one of the most sought after, shrewdest, and most talented courtesans in all of Naples. But she leads a dual life. When she is not otherwise engaged with her paying lovers, she is a loving mother to her two young daughters. Francesca keeps her two lives separate, and it is this which makes Francesca a highly believable and likeable character.

Modesto is a castrato, a loyal, dedicated, lonely man who truly loves Francesca and aids her unselfishly in her work and in her family life. Of course there is a list of Francesca’s clients, some of whom are a bit quirky, some charming, and some who border on being outright dangerous. Although there are numerous sex scenes in this book, they are tastefully written and kept to a minimum.

Italian historical fiction is my favourite genre and I usually read numerous books in this category. Gabrielle Kimm did an exceptional job in adding a realistic and vibrant flavour to the setting. Throughout, there are sprinklings of the most fascinating characters. One scene in particular was most entertaining – poor Father Ippolito, who must battle his own lust each time he listens to Francesca as she confesses the details of her lurid life. When Francesca falls in love, she gives up her life as a courtesan, while keeping her past a secret. But fate conspires against her and soon, her secret is discovered. This sets off a hectic chain of events that is more than intriguing and adds suspense to an already fascinating story.

Gabrielle Kimm has penned an entertaining tale brimming with vibrant imagery, suspense, and poignancy. A definite keeper! And don’t worry if you haven’t read the first novel, His Last Duchess. This book stands alone and you’ll have no problem falling into this very lovely story.



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Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James


The year is 1803 and Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy now have two small sons, Fitzwilliam and Charles. Their sumptuous orderly world is a haven, their lives a round of social calls and visits from Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband, Charles Bingley, who live nearby with their three children; her father visits often and spends hours in the impressive library at Pemberley. Darcy’s sister Georgiana is about to receive a proposal of marriage from Colonel Fitzwilliam , [how that name does keep cropping up] though she is more interested in another suitor called Alveston. Preparations are also under way for the annual autumn ball in honour of Darcy’s late mother, Lady Anne.

On the eve of the ball, a coach arrives carrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister, who stumbles out of the carriage shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. Darcy sends a search party into nearby woodland to search for murderer and victim and find Wickham, drunk and incoherent, crouched over the body of his friend, Martyn Denny.  I hoped it was Wickham so the Bennetts, Darcys and Bingleys could have got rid of him for good, but no such luck.

P D James is regarded as one of our best novelists, and I have always enjoyed her mysteries and looked forward to a murder mystery at Pemberley, but I was really disappointed, though I stuck it out to the end  to see if there would be a surprise - there wasn't.

There is no emotional conflict in this plot – whether Wickham was innocent or guilty was of no interest to either the reader or the characters, all they wanted was to avoid further scandal, and who could blame them after his behaviour towards the entire Bennett clan in Pride and Prejudice – why would Ms James imagine anyone would care what happens to him in this novel?

Lydia makes a brief appearance as an hysterical wife, who, on arriving at Elizabeth’s house promptly yells, ‘Not you, not you,’ when offered assistance, then proceeds to sleep in her house, eat her food and accept the care of the saintly Jane.  I would have packed the madam off to an inn straight away. To add insult to injury, Lydia confesses that although not invited to the Lady Anne ball, she turned up intending to attend anyway, working presumably on the axiom, ‘When you go home, they have to let you in.’

There is no actual detective work, not even amateur efforts, and the crime is investigated by local magistrates. By coincidence, Darcy is one so his first job is to recuse himself because of his known past with Wickham and because the crime happened on his property. Of course forensics don’t exist either, a magistrate asks a doctor called in to advise on the case, “that your clever scientific colleagues have not yet found a way of distinguishing one man’s blood from another?”

The mystery is revealed at an inquest, a subsequent trial at the Old Bailey where no witness has been left out or minutiae of courtroom procedure overlooked, and then is finally revealed in the culprit’s deathbed confession, Colonel Fitzwilliam who is a witness to the whole sorry situation and then Wickham puts us through an almost identical and laconic account of the same story - which condemns him as a complete cad in any case. No informative clues are dribbled into the narrative for the reader to work out, so when the truth comes out it is completely new – well most of it.

Darcy the most romantic hero of all time, and Elizabeth, a delightful, assertive woman with a sharp wit, and don’t forget the ‘fine eyes’, ‘longed for’ each other when they were apart, but displayed little affection the rest of the time. Elizabeth is colourless, and complacent with none of the intelligence we know she possesses. Lydia is still a brat, but she disappeared entirely after her bout of hysteria and Jane slid under the skirting board somewhere along the line never to be seen again. Mary Bennett has married a puritan clergyman but doesn't make an appearance, nor does the happily single Kitty Bennett who likes running things at Longbourn.

Ms James has made Darcy’s late great-grandfather into an eccentric who found the pressure of being lord of the manor untenable and went to live alone in the woods with his dog. What a shame this story wasn’t about him, he sounds quite a character.

Wickham remains true to character, arrogant and self-serving with scant gratitude for what is done for him, and Lydia remains a simpering idiot in awe of a man she evidently deserves.

Curious as to what more eminent reviewers thought of this, I looked a few up and The Guardian one opens with:

It is a truth not universally acknowledged that a classic novel is not in want of a sequel.

I tend to agree, and I'm sorry Ms James, I normally love your work, but I’m afraid I won’t even be keeping this one on my e-reader.